A guest blog by: Michelle Fusco
Before reading this I want you to take 1 minute to think about what motivates you to workout/eat healthy. What is the driving force behind your fitness journey? Do you have a vacation in 5 weeks? Do you have anxiety and working out relieves some of these symptoms? Ask yourself, why am I doing this? I want to share with you a very small piece of my fitness journey and why I’ve realized that altering my motivation, was a game changer for me.
I used to look in the mirror almost every day, grab my stomach, and sigh. Look at the cellulite on my ass, or think about how much weight I’d have to shed to have a ‘thigh-gap,’ and I would feel so much unnecessary anger/sadness. I’d say to myself.. “Ew. I’m gross. I’m so fat. Why did I eat all that last night?” or the famous, “I’ll just start my diet tomorrow” (to justify whatever cycle of binge eating-feeling-bad-for-myself I was about to endure). After taking freshman 15 quite literally in 1st year University and packing on 15 pounds within 4 months (beer + 4 am pizza 3x a week, every week = very unforgiving), clothes weren’t fitting the way they used to and my confidence dropped drastically.
It wasn’t until 4th year University (2011-12), when I started working out regularly and chose healthier food options. While I lost weight and felt happier, it was a bumpy ride. I was trying to get my body ‘bikini ready’ for our grad trip to Punta Cana. I was under-eating and still didn’t have a positive relationship with food. Since the motivation for my weight-loss here was just to look skinny for a 7 day trip in the sun… once I was out of a bikini and back into sweats… almost all, if not more, of the weight came right back on. I had zero self-control and because I restricted myself so much prior to Punta Cana, I continuously justified my drinking and poor food choices because I felt ‘I had earned/deserved it.’
After graduation, I got back into the gym and again, started to drop weight. For as long as I can remember my weight was constantly going up and down like a roller-coaster and was never stable, because my motivation wasn’t. I had the mentality of “Okay, I’ll eat really clean for the next 4 weeks and then on so and so’s birthday, I get to eat whatever I want” …or “I’ll eat clean for the next 4 weeks because I want to look good for [enter any social event].” But.. what would end up happening is that I wouldn’t eat clean for 4 weeks. I’d cheat say, 2 weeks in. So now I’m pissed. Now I’m so mad at myself and to punish myself, after a few harsh words and self-loathing, I would just say “Okay, the 4 weeks of clean eating restarts as of today onward— the last two weeks don’t count.” How many of you have done this? And does it make you feel happy? Because it made me feel so shitty, all the time. A cycle of disappointment. Why? Well look at my motivation… it was just to simply pat myself on the back after 4 weeks of clean eating to then most likely completely over-eat as a reward— making food the enemy I had to stay away from AND the prize that I congratulated myself with in large amounts. This is NOT sustainable and sadly, it’s a very common cycle that most women put themselves through. I have finally freed myself from it, and here’s how.
Fast forward to 2015 and I land the dream job of my life with an international NGO called Sundara. In October 2016 I traveled with Sundara to Uganda, where I worked on a refugee camp home to 6000+ individuals, many of whom are survivors from post-Rwanda conflict, or internally displaced from within Uganda. My diet when I was in Uganda? Two pieces of white bread in the morning + a shot of protein power I brought from home; no lunch or water during the day (we’d be working on the camp and we felt it was insensitive to drink/eat in-front of families to whom water/food is a luxury they don’t always have access to); malaria pills for dinner with some white rice. I dropped 8 pounds in 10 days. When I came home I could barely eat a strawberry without feeling like someone was scraping the inside of my stomach. Kendall to the rescue! (If you ever need a gut healing meal plan like I did, hit her up– she’s a goddess & saved me). Meal plan aside—I was a mess. I remember leaving a restaurant one night with my friends and as soon as I hopped into the cab, I balled my eyes out. The waitress had tossed out a completely full jug of most-likely tap water that our table didn’t finish…I had a panic attack the entire ride home. I’ve been travelling to impoverished communities since I was 15 years old, so the concept of reverse culture shock isn’t new to me, but something felt different this time.
The entire refugee camp has only one water source– rain water that falls into a swamp. From here they collect water for drinking, bathing, washing clothes, and cooking. To reach this swamp, children as young as 5 and the women of each family (it is their designated role), walk roughly 14km+ each day to fill up as many jugs as they can carry. Some do this walk 2x per day, depending how many people they are collecting for. During this walk, they are sometimes physically assaulted or raped. The water carries many waterborne diseases, including cholera and typhoid, both of which are fatal…but they have no other option. Without this water they will die, so it’s a risk they have to take. Food supply is low. Other NGO’s + the local government occasionally do food drops— mostly potatoes and beans.
My motivation? Every morning I do 25 min of fasted cardio because I can. Not because I’m hungry from the night before and have to go fetch water for the whole family. Each day I drink 4L of clean, disease free water, because it’s a f*cking privilege others would literally die for and it is the opportunity of a lifetime I won’t pass up. Do I find it “annoying to measure my food?” Absolutely not. Having access to so much food I actually have the choice to measure it, is a PRIVILEGE. Feeling like I’m going to throw up after leg pressing 450 pounds is not something I dread, it’s something I look forward to. I am blessed to have enough food and water each day, both providing me with this incredible energy to test the impressive limits of my own body. Once I shifted my perception of eating healthy and working out from something I had to do in order to achieve this unattainable happiness — to something that I have the OPPORTUNITY to do— everything changed. This is not something I’m trying out for 4 weeks, this is my lifestyle, for the rest of my life. My mental and physical health are finally at peace with one another, and I’ve never felt more confident.
If you feel trapped in an unhealthy mindset, I promise you, 1) You are not alone. 2) There is a way out and with a little self-reflection plus possibly re-adjusting what motivates you, I know you can find it too. I’m not suggesting that my experience in Uganda should motivate you to wake up each day excited to weigh your food or kick your own ass at the gym– this is my experience and it may not resonate with you. What I’m saying is that I hope you find what does get you super pumped and jazzed about your fasted cardio and 4L water bottles every day. I hope your fitness journey includes happiness, empowerment, and a lot of hard work– there should be no room for sadness, self-hatred, or self-sabotaging behaviour in any part of your day.
This quote by Motivational Speaker, Eric Thomas (ET), influences me every single day, and I hope it does the same for you, too.
“If your effort is low, you’re probably not thinking about the opportunity. You’re probably thinking about the obligation. And when you think about, ET – how do you stay pumped up? ET how do you stay on fire? ET how are you always driven? Even in the midst of trials and tribulation? Even in the midst of your haters who are trying to break you or tear you down? ET, how do you stay strong? I keep thinking about the opportunities, every single day I’m thinking about these opportunities. I’m not looking at this thing as an obligation, I’m not looking at this thing as something I have to do. Or that I’m forced to do, Right? Something that someone is making me do. Every time I wake up I’m thinking, I’m ALIVE, this is the day! This is an opportunity. If you want what you’ve never had before, If you want to do what you’ve never done before, if you want to be where you’ve never been before – change your mentality! I want you to see that effort goes up when you look at it as: I’m on an opportunity of a lifetime. You should be excited about the fact that you have an opportunity. – Eric Thomas (Motivational Speaker)
A guest blog by: Michelle Fusco